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Fenland farmers boost for wildlife and farmland birds

PUBLISHED: 08:09 07 January 2012

NFU East Midlands regional board chairman Andrew Brown (left) and NFU East Anglia regional board chairman Michael Sly (right).

NFU East Midlands regional board chairman Andrew Brown (left) and NFU East Anglia regional board chairman Michael Sly (right).

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A pioneering group of farmers in Fenland has forged a large-scale conservation project to benefit wildlife and involve local communities.

A pioneering group of farmers in Fenland has forged a large-scale conservation project to benefit wildlife and involve local communities.

Covering a total area of more than 9,300 acres, it has the active support of 14 farmers and landowners around Thorney, near Peterborough.

It has built on the enthusiasm for combining food production and caring for nature, said farmers’ leader Michael Sly. He is a keen supporter of the RSPB’s initiative, the Thorney farmland bird friendly zone, which has harnessed the collective enthusiasm of farmers to benefit the wider environment.

Mr Sly said: “It has brought together most of the farmers in Thorney and the neighbouring areas. It has brought in farmers in the entry level scheme or higher level scheme, who have also had help from the RSPB for their applications. And we may be able to encourage other farmers to come on board.”

Mr Sly and four other farms successfully collaborated in a joint submission for a HLS scheme.

“It is something positive that we as farmers can do and we can work together with the RSPB and actually produce food for the nation and the right thing for the environment too. I feel for further generations, it is the right thing to do,” he said.

On his farm, Mr Sly, who is the county chairman of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, the voluntary initiative to encourage greener farming practices, had recorded a total of 53 different bird species.

The farmers have signed up to help nature selecting key entry level and higher level environmental stewardship scheme land management options. These include leaving unharvested crops to feed birds over the winter, fallows and skylark plots providing in-field nesting habitat, and nectar rich plots supplying insect rich areas.

The Thorney project was announced at the Oxford Farming Conference by Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director. “For many years, we have worked on individual farms across the UK, but for the first time, this project has a mixture of local farmers to deliver and provide a strong wildlife identity to an area.

“All 14 farmers in the Thorney farmland bird friendly zone are balancing the optimal needs of farmland birds and other wildlife with those of their farm businesses.

“Farming in the heart of what is considered to be one of our most productive arable areas, they act as a great example of how it’s possible to marry the needs of food production with environmental delivery. We hope this will be the first of many successful landscape-scale projects linking the work of wildlife-friendly farmers.”


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